03/24/2015 05:56 pm ET Updated May 23, 2015

How Do You Know If You've Taken on Too Much?

The Question

Hi Sam,

Wow, as of last week I have discovered The Organized Artist Company and am so grateful for your work! I find you so filled with encouragement and grace. THANK YOU!

I am a freelance designer/animator based in NYC, creating on-air branding for television networks. As of a year and a half ago, I founded a nonprofit organization called ALEGRIA: Hope Through Art, a nonprofit organization invested in empowering children living in orphanage communities through creativity. Now, in the midst of these commitments, I feel like I'm barely treading water.

My question is: How do you know if you've taken on too much?

How do you know when to delegate, how to delegate, or when to just slow down your goals?
I just purchased the digital Get It Done Home Study Kit, so if there's a blog post or seminar that you've spoken about this, feel free to point me there.

Very best to you!


The Answer

Dear Shay -- aren't you WONDERFUL!

Thank you so much for taking the time to write.

First of all -- hooray for you and all your good work. I know it's a big slog, but you are doing God's Own Work and I'm proud to know you.

Secondly -- your question is genius.

In some ways, it is the ULTIMATE question for the independent artist, not to mention all the teachers, parents, volunteers, do-gooders and civic-minded citizens of the world.

Let me see if I can answer your question a few different ways:

Answer #1: How do you know if you've taken on too much? Check with someone else.

Seriously. You will ALWAYS feel as though you are not doing enough, because you always have The List clamoring inside your head.

And The List doesn't care what's already been done; The List only cares about what's still left undone. This is part of our hunter-gatherer mind.

We are always on to the next thing and we often fail to notice that 1) we've already accomplished a lot today and 2) we're exhausted.

It's time for a Reality Check.

Find someone else you admire -- someone you think of as being a good, dedicated person, and ask them for their opinion about your current roster of projects. If they raise their eyebrows in surprised concern, you might want to think about cutting back.

That person might also have some helpful tips on how to keep all your balls in the air without losing your marbles.

Answer #2: Check with yourself

Sometimes your body knows best. Get quiet and let your schedule question float in the air -- how does your body respond? Clenching, anger and feelings of exhaustion are a good sign that it's time to cut back.

Answer #3: Check your Balance.

Sometimes people talk about creating "balance" in their lives as though life were a pie chart. You know: equal amounts of time for exercise, spiritual development, friends, family, work, art...

I say: Hooey.

As creative people, our lives ebb and flow and tilt and whirl. Our schedule changes, our income fluctuates and sometimes we are completely consumed by a project while other times it appears we are almost inert. (I call that "letting the field lay fallow.")

So for us, Balance is not question of time-dispersement.

Balance is a question of input/output.

When you put a lot into your project, are you getting a lot back? When you put in a nickel do you get back a gumball? And the gumball can be anything: money, clients, a happy feeling, new learning, fun...

And this is where volunteer/not-for-profit activities can get tricky. Because they ALWAYS need more. 501-c3s are, by definition, an endless gaping maw of need. They will take as much as you have to give and still need more.

They will never say, "OK, thank you -- you've given enough time and money now. Please go take a rest."

So it is up to you to set limits on what you can give and still feel like you're getting the better end of the deal.

You must keep yourself fueled and aflame. You need to keep an eye on the Balance of what you are giving (time, money, expertise) and what you are getting (good feelings, community, connections, prestige).

Here are my tips:

-- Be damn strict with yourself. You are innately generous and you need to hold that impulse in check so you don't give away the store, OK?

-- Put the oxygen mask over your own nose and mouth first. You can't help anybody if you're all burnt out.

-- Do the work that only YOU can do. The work that anyone can do -- like setting up the chairs for the concert or calling the people about the bake sale -- let someone else do.

Answer #4: Delegate The Right Stuff

There is work that you do cheerfully and there is work that upsets you. Guess which one you should delegate?

I've started to keep a list of tasks that make me feel "ugh" when I think of them. Those are the ones I delegate to my virtual assistant.

On the other hand, there is work that might seem tedious to some that I LOVE to do -- that's the stuff I offer up to others as a service.

So the short version is something like: The work that feels like play to you? Offer that as a service and feel free to charge a bundle because you are bringing so much love to the work you are a value-added proposition from the get-go.

The work that feels like work to you? Find someone else for whom it feels like play and overpay them.

This is what we call a win-win-win situation. Cultivate those.

PS. You don't get any extra credit for doing work you hate, so find another solution, you Creative Genius, you!

Answer #5: Break time!

In my experience, the only time people wonder if they're over-scheduled is when they're already over-scheduled.

And for a lot of us workhorses out there, our "exhaust-o-meter" doesn't work. We just keep going. Until we collapse.

So you MUST build in systems to support you:

-- Draw a big red line through at least one day per week on your calendar and take that day for yourself alone

-- Schedule in daily quiet-time, naps and daydreaming time -- even 15 minutes can make a big difference (and for heaven's sake, turn off your phone during those times)

-- Take at least two consecutive days off per month

-- Make your "time off" inviolate -- do not make any exceptions. Put an auto-responder on your email if you must, but stay off the computer.

-- Check your life for sustainability: do you have enough money coming in? are you getting enough sleep? are your eating habits good? If you are a broken doll, you won't have anything to offer anyone, so make sure your life both sustains and supports you.

Please let me know how you enjoy the Get It Done Home Study Kit --